An ode to creative power in the face of physical hurdles, It’s Not Yet Dark is a deeply moving affair. Witty, wise and weighty.
Walking the snowbound beauty of the Sundance Film Festival immediately after a screening of his latest short, The Sound of People, Irish filmmaker Simon Fitzmaurice was riding an emotional high matched by the upwards trajectory of the career in which he channelled his roguish, poetic energy.
At the very same time, he was niggled by a floppy foot, which his adored and adoring wife Ruth thought very little of, as she notes, in that casual way a whinging partner can be brushed off. Sadly, it was the first tell tale sign of Motor Neuron Disease – the horrifying diagnosis subsequently delivered with a life expectancy sentence of three-to-four years.
There has been a lot written by people living with disability about not wanting to be seen as inspiration for the able-bodied, something mawkish for an Instagram or Facebook meme. That is completely understandable, though it’s hard not to watch Frankie Fenton’s intensely beautiful documentary It’s Not Yet Dark about how this family pulls together and Simon processes as he slowly faces complete paralysis, eventually unable to move, to swallow, even to breathe unaided, and not feel a swell of pride.
Thanks to the marvels of technology, his ability to write remains. Guided by a computer screen that traces the movement of his eyes in order to type, the Eyegaze program, complete with Stephen Hawking voice and Ruth’s amusing aside that it was preferable to a weird robo version of Simon’s, allows him to continue his work, a lifelong passion.
First comes the memoir that shares the same name as the film, which grew out of an impossibly painful attempt to write goodbye letters to his considerable bundle of children. Then there is also the screenplay for his debut feature, My Name is Emily (also screening at SFF), which he remarkably directs with said eye-typing and a dedicated support crew including family.
Colin Farrell narrates the piece with quiet passion, reading from the memoir with a sonorous lullaby of weighty though not cloying delivery, as family members add splashes of vibrant colour recalling his rambunctious childhood and playboy charms at university. Ruth amusingly acknowledges that at first she thought he was utterly arrogant.
Beautifully shot by Kate McCullough and taking advantage of Ireland’s natural beauty, the score by Stephen Rennicks avoids pushing it too far when the power is already apparent in Simon’s words.
Perhaps the most moving of all his musings is the stretch of time just before losing all mobility, when he is acutely aware of the possible lasts in everything that he does, particularly with his children, like last time reading them to sleep. He describes the racing nature of time sped up towards the end, while at the same time stretched as slow as can be – wanting to live in the moment, but at the same time aware of its incredible import. It’s hard not to feel that there’s something here we could all learn from.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords